( ENSPIRE Community Spotlight ) Dretona Maddox Founds Nonprofit Purposely Chosen to Support Teen Moms
ENSPIRE Contributor: Charlotte Drummond
The mission statement of the nonprofit organization Purposely Chosen is “to help displaced teen moms keep their babies through non-stigmatizing support, advocacy, and parenting education,” and Dretona Maddox knows from personal experience how hard teen moms have it. Maddox was a teen mom herself, but she is now trained and working as a registered nurse and social work practitioner while being an avid advocate for teen moms through the work she does at Purposely Chosen.
Purposely Chosen acts as a support system for teen mothers who need physical, mental, and emotional assistance to carry the demands of being a teen mom. Through her nonprofit organization, Maddox uses her resources, acquired skills, and what she has learned from her own experiences to aid those who feel like the world has turned its back on them. Now a three-time bestselling author, medical and mental health professional, and participant of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, Maddox’s accomplishments act as proof of her devotion to her cause and giving teen moms the help that they need and deserve.
ENSPIRE Magazine talked to Dretona Maddox about how her upbringing, career paths, and experiences inspired the work she does for Purposely Chosen.
As a teen mom who was homeless and grew up in foster care, how did you learn to balance your priorities in life, and how have you persisted in keeping positive?
I didn’t grow up in foster care…I actually ran from foster care. After my grandmother died when I was 14, I became homeless, and I couch-surfed until I ended up in a home with an older lady who was a friend’s grandma who took me in, so I never went into the foster care system. As far as learning to balance my priorities in life, I relied on the things I learned from my grandmother. My grandmother had me from 4 to 14, she started right away preparing me to be a woman and to be independent. She did not want me to be dependent upon her, and to be honest, she didn’t want to take us in either after my mother died when I was four. So she started training me at a very young age, so I was able to take what she taught me along with a lot of prayers and watching and observing people. I didn’t have a guide, I didn’t have people telling me what to do. I’ve been on my own since I was 14, so no one was instructing me, and I had to figure it out on my own.
It was like following the yellow brick road, when everything was aligned, I knew I was on the right path, and when everything was in chaos, I knew something was off balance and that I needed to sit still, realign, and prioritize. I used to write a lot, writing down my goals and things I wanted to accomplish, and that’s how I did it, I stuck to it and didn’t deviate from my goals.
How do your skills as a registered nurse translate into the work you do for Purposely Chosen?
Oh, it’s everything! The beauty of Purposely Chosen, I call it a hybrid between nursing and social work… It’s the best of both worlds. As a nurse, I was a neonatal intensive care nurse, and when I started my career, I started off with special needs kids, but it was pediatric nursing, so I’ve only worked with young kids and babies. The girls I serve in Purposely Chosen are all parenting and pregnant teens, and because they are teen parents it’s a social issue, a public health issue, and I’m a public health nurse also. Since the girls I serve are in foster care, it gives me that social work side, so it is the best, it’s a hybrid, It falls right in between the category of nursing and social work.
How has your own experience as a teen mom influenced the goals of Purposely Chosen? Do you believe empathy plays a role in accomplishing your mission?
Yes, I believe empathy is everything. I started the organization from the position of being empathetic to my own needs. It was my first pregnancy at 15, it was what I would have needed in order to keep my baby, which is what the program was initially created out of. It came from a place of pain. My pain points, the things I felt that If I had these things in place then I could have kept my baby and could have been an effective mom. So now, as I continue to follow the mission of the organization is to help teen moms keep their babies through non-stigmatizing support, advocacy, and parenting education. With those components of the mission, without empathy, you can’t do it. You have to know how to advocate, and if you’ve never been discriminated against or never had an experience of being treated badly all of those things you have to know how to serve them and understand where they are coming from. The whole organization is based on having the posture of empathy.
How does your organization promote and provide support for the teen parent community?
The way we promote this is through parenting education and through our baby shower programs. That is the outreach part of our program. Our girls that live in our residential care program, come through the foster care system. All of those girls are there because they are in foster care, but the teens that are in foster care that’s not the extent of the foster care community. Young moms that are able to stay at home will need some additional resources. They may be displaced, living with a grandma or a friend, so thought our baby shower program is how we provide that outreach, and we keep the community connected just by being a resource for these moms. They are able to call us, for clothes, milk, whatever they need. We collect these items that people have supported us with, and we are able to give them out not just for the girls we serve but also for girls within the community.
What are the most fulfilling and challenging parts of owning and operating two maternity homes in Southern California?
The most fulfilling part is knowing that I essentially paid it forward, and I don’t mean that in the sense that someone did that for me, but it’s the concept of wishing I had somebody to do it for me. All the things that I wanted, I now pour into these girls, and so I get the opportunity of watching them become wonderful women who are caring and the concept that I had in my head at the beginning and all the things that I thought would make a great program based on my experience turned out to be true.
There are some things over the years that I’ve had to modify in my program, based on the girls that I serve, but for the most part, all they are looking for is love and belonging and a place of stability, and to know that somebody is there for them. Even when the girls leave my program and they transition out on their own, my number is still the same, so I still speak to the very first girls I had from my program many years ago. That becomes the fulfilling part to see them grow and mature. The challenging part is when they just aren’t ready, and I don’t have the in-between. Meaning I think there should be a stabilization part or program that fits right there in the middle for the girls that are transitioning out of a fully staffed 24-hour, 7-day-a-week establishment to them being on their own at 18/19 years old. They just aren’t ready. It’s challenging when you get a girl that has a lot of trauma, who’s just not ready but age has caught up to her, and now she’s 18 and able to leave foster care, and I know they aren’t ready.
That is the most challenging part because before they can see the success, they have to go through many failures, and sometimes those failures are consequences of their behavior which sometimes can be losing custody permanently of their kid. That goes for both maternity homes. I wish I could have more. I am limited by the state about the number of kids I can have in placement, but if I can have more that would solve the problem. I’m looking now to open that interim between fully staffed foster care and residential care and transitioning.
You and your husband Keith were featured on OWN’s “Black Love,” where you discussed your story together and as individuals. How important is your support system to you, and how does Purposely Chosen act as a support system to other teen mothers?
My support system is not large. It’s very limited. I got married when I was 18, my husband was 22, and I learned at a very young age that I had to figure out what I wanted to do for myself. But I had to figure out who I was. Essentially I’m an orphan, I didn’t have a mother or a father growing up. So I didn’t know who I was. So when I relied on other people to help shape that in my early years it didn’t prove to be positive for me. It became very negative because I was so unsure so I had to spend a lot of time by myself and with my husband and my kids to figure out who I’m supposed to be and he had to do the same thing. Now we’ve been married 30 years, and that’s three decades. My teen years, my twenties, my thirties, and now we are fifty. I had to learn who I was.
My support system is solid because it’s few. It’s people I know that are very dependable, and that will come through when I need it, and it’s the same thing for Purposely Chosen we are a stable force in the teen parent community, and so like I was saying earlier, my number never changes, my address is the same. People know how to reach me and get in contact with me, and it was the thing that I needed. I didn’t need people always telling me how to do this and that I just needed somebody there that if I got curious and needed to ask the questions that they were there to be that support for me and answer those questions, and that’s what Purposely Chosen offers to the teen parent community. We are here, and we are stable.
What are your long-term goals for Purposely Chosen?
OOoh I have so many! I’ll give you my top three! First, I want to open what I talked about earlier, stabilization, an interim home for moms that are not quite ready, probably ages 18 to 21, transitioning out but not quite ready to be on their own. It wouldn’t be fully staffed, more like a house mom or house parents that are there and these moms that are transitioning to adulthood have that added level of support. A big house, taking maybe six girls and their babies into the home and someone there to continue to assist them until they transition out. The next one would be a vocational program. My mother died when I was four, she was a nurse, and I am also a nurse. I started in 2017 at a school of nursing named “Iola Moore School of Nursing.” I haven’t had the time to really focus on it, but these girls are lacking the vocational skills to be successful. And my last part would be a daycare. These girls struggle so much with getting child care. Once they leave our program, it puts them at risk for human trafficking because they rely on the traffickers or the ‘pimps’ to be their source of income, but if I gave them a stable environment, vocational skills, and then provide daycare I believe that would just add to their success, and we would have a greater success rate after these girls transition out. Those are my top three goals for Purposely Chosen.
Maddox hopes that through her work at Purposely Chosen, she can help destigmatize teen pregnancy, and while she doesn’t encourage there to be more teen moms in the world, she wants to help the teen moms out there with lack of support and work toward bettering the communities where cycles of teen pregnancy occur the most. The proper care can be given through the many programs that Purposely Chosen offers, including baby showers, workshops on nurturing skills, talks on teen pregnancy prevention, and many more. You can learn more about Purposely Chosen at their website here.
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